My head has been spinning for the past week as I have attempted to follow what has become the defining initiative of the Obama administration: Health Care Reform. Talk of reconciliation, procedural game playing, posturing, pontificating is enough to put one in a perpetual state of dizziness.
It has been about a year since the 44th President of the United States who made health care reform a major component of his campaign turned over to the Democratic leadership of the Congress the task of crafting this legislation which would impact 1/6th of the American economy. That was his first mistake. By allowing a lobbyist-influenced, special-interested infested, and quite frankly power-hungry majority to write this 2500+page monstrosity, this inexperienced (hey, Joe Biden said it!) President abdicated his responsibility to craft a piece of legislation to present to the Congress. It was announced yesterday that President Obama was postponing a planned trip to Asia by three days to stay in Washington to monitor and continue to work the process to get this bill passed. No question that some Democratic leaders were less than thrilled that the President and his family were leaving the country on what was perceived as a Spring Break trip at such a crucial time for this legislation that this President has ordained as being so important. When this President had approval ratings in the 60% area last spring, he was overseas on the “apology tour” while the Democrats in Congress put this bill together. Now with approval ratings in the 40% range and 16 months into his Presidency, Democratic office holders and candidates are unwilling to appear in person with him (except for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, but she is always an exception), and it does not take a political advisor with the skills of a Karl Rove or James Carville to see that this is an administration that is sinking with Titanic proportions!
Promises of transparency, posting bills to the internet, and talk of bipartisan participation in the process are all well-documented on video and print media. But when it came time to make good on all of this, it was not until the backs were to the wall that these promises were finally, and rather begrudgingly kept. The whole process has been one of the kind of politics that President Obama campaigned against. While smoking has been banned in most public buildings in this country, there were virtual smoked-filled back rooms that have been legendary in American politics where this legislation was conceived.
So, where are we now? Polls have consistently indicated that there a plurality of Americans are against this bill. Of the 85% of Americans who now have health care insurance, 85% of them are happy with the coverage that they have. What initially was to be a bill that would provide access to health care insurance to the 15% or so of Americans uninsured, uninsurable, or underinsured, had become an overhaul and total takeover of the health care system in this country. But the Speaker of the House of Representatives insists that a bill will be voted on in the coming week, sent to the President for his signature, and then the Senate will “fix” it with a reconciliation bill. This is not the process that the Founding Fathers put forth in the Constitution that they so painstakingly devised over 200 years ago. No question that somewhere James Madison is shaking his head at what has become of the legislative process being manipulated by both sides of the aisle.
In the Washington Post, Patrick Cadell and Douglas Schoen, Democratic pollsters for Presidents Carter and Clinton respectively, recently wrote:
In “The March of Folly,” Barbara Tuchman asked, “Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests?” Her assessment of self-deception — “acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts” — captures the conditions that are gripping President Obama and the Democratic Party leadership as they renew their efforts to enact health-care reform.
Their article goes on to warn of the impending defeat of the Democrats at the polls in November if there is not an immediate and total about-face in the direction that the health care debate is going. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/11/AR2010031102904.html
But before we hold a wake for the demise of the Democrats in November, this article points out that Americans have had it with big government. Texas, South Dakota, and Missouri state legislatures are considering sovereignty legislation reinforcing the 10th Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. While the 10th Amendment has been adhered to or ignored throughout American history, its resurgence in this age of a bloated and overencompassing Federal government is gaining steam. It is this movement toward states’ rights that should give those Republicans in the Congress who have not always been on the “right” side of the issue pause. Unfunded mandates from the federal government for education, health care, and labor laws just to name a few have decimated state budgets, and state governments unlike the federal government, are bound by their state constitutions to have a balanced budget–they can only spend as much money as they collect. State legislatures in many states are the most functional of any level of government and they are flexing their muscles in what should get the attention of all members of Congress.
“The sleeping giant has been awakened” is a phrase that has been used ad nauseum of late. I do believe for the first time in my lifetime, the American public is engaged, involved, and more informed than ever. The 24-hour cable news networks, the explosion of social media, and the internet itself has changed the way that we receive and disperse information. You are reading this blog, aren’t you? And this is what has me totally confounded. Comments to posted articles, calls into talk radio, attendance at Town Halls and Tea Party events, comments on Twitter and Facebook, billboards along the highway are all confirming what the opinion polls are reporting. The majority of Americans do not support this Health Care Reform legislation, but still some 8 months into the process, we are down to the Speaker of the House of Representatives holding closed-door meetings and making deals with those Congress members who are not on board. It remains to be seen if the arm-twisting, either literally or figuratively results in bringing those contrary House Democrats in line to vote for this legislation.
November is a long way off in political terms. Should this bill be passed will the American people really vote to “throw the bums out”? Not sure. It appears in March that could be the case. Will it be enough for Republicans to take over the majority in Congress to repeal this bill, should it pass and withstand a presidential veto of that should it occur? Again, no crystal ball. It appears to me that passing this legislation, which does not have the support of the majority of Americans is a metaphor for “taking one for the team”. President Obama may still inject a “win one for the Gipper” moment into this process, but at what cost? The passing of this legislation is a lose-lose proposition. The American people lose because the bill in its current form is not good legislation. The American democracy loses because of the corrupt and convoluted process that was employed to pass the legislation. In conflict management, the goal is always win/win-to compromise so that both sides can have some degree of victory. That sadly will not be the case here. This is a losing proposition, and it seems that the Democratic leadership of Congress is willing lose at all costs.